Wonkitorial: Labor Day 2006
Since today is Labor Day, I thought I would nip over to the National Education's website and see what's there. Not surprisingly, they're saying that teacher pay is losing ground:
An analysis of decennial Census data clearly shows that over the past 60 years the annual pay teachers receive has fallen sharply in relation to the annual pay of other workers with college degrees.1 The mid- to late 1990s, a period of vigorous national economic growth, was a particularly bad time for teacher pay relative to the pay of other occupations. Throughout the nation the average earnings of workers with at least four years of college are now over 50 percent higher than the average earnings of a teacher. At no other time since a college degree was required to teach has this wage gap been so wide. Two reasons stand out for the growing gap: 1) the erosion of job discrimination practices, which has allowed females greater access to such careers as doctor, lawyer, engineer, and business executive; and 2) periods of robust economic growth that bore financial rewards for most professional workers but bypassed the teaching profession.Read the whole thing.
The failure of school districts to significantly raise employee salaries to offset the increased pay available among alternative occupations has serious consequences in terms of their ability to place well-qualified teachers in classrooms. Many factors influence the choice of whether to become a teacher or to pursue another career. Likewise, many factors influence the choice of continuing as a teacher or leaving the profession. It is clear that one significant factor is the competitiveness of teachers' compensation. Ample research exists demonstrating that the supply of teachers responds strongly to the compensation of the teaching profession relative to that paid among competing occupations.
The results are eye-opening. There was a time when it — literally — paid to be a teacher. Unfortunately, that was 60 years ago. In 1940 the average male employee with four or more years of college who did not teach K–12 earned 3.6 percent less than the average K–12 male teacher. In the same year, the average female non-teacher with four or more years of college earned 15.8 percent less than the average female teacher. By 2000, the average female with four years of college made 16.4 percent more than the average female teacher and the average male with four years of college made a whopping 60.4 percent more than the average male teacher. When the average earnings of male and female teachers are combined and compared with the average pay of all non-teachers with at least four years of college, the difference is 53.5 percent in the year 2000. This actually understates the pay gap because a large proportion of teachers have master's degrees, making them more educated than their comparison group.
I'm not so sure that I would trust the NEA's figures without reservation, but their argument seems sound. Especially in light of the fact that the teachers in our district here in California's "Imperial" Valley have not had any type of increase in take home pay for over 5 years.
This in spite of the fact that our test scores have been going up (as well as the number of hours worked by teachers both in and outside of the classroom) each and every year.
What the NEA piece failed to address, however, is that even though pay may not be going up relative to other occupations, the performance expectations are.
By 2014, (as mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act) teachers will be expected to get 100 percent of their students to pass standardized tests each and every year.
In other words, if only 33 out of 35 students in a teacher's class pass those annual tests, that teacher will be deemed "underperforming."
In none of the professions (outside of that of undertaker, perhaps) that I can think of, is the standard of performance expected to be 100 percent success 100 percent of the time.
Due to the stressful working conditions inherent in the job, ever-increasing performance expectations relative to expected compensation, and the lack of opportunities for promotion based upon merit, I'm deeply pessimistic about the future of the teaching profession as a career choice.
At this time and in these circumstances, I'm not so sure that I would council any young person (with 30 years or more of working life ahead of him or her) to consider making public school teaching their life's work. I believe that I would advise him or her to seek a profession where perfection is rewarded with better monetary compensation and greater societal status.